Back in late 2020, a local author approached us with a proposal to publish her Metal themed short story. We here at Metal-Rules like to encourage metallic creativity so we are pleased to present this unique story for your reading pleasure. Try to pick out all the Metal references! Enjoy!
SONG DREAMS PART I
N. C. Krueger
It was the year 3011 when they made the records illegal—the ones whose covers sported toothed monsters and craggy mountains and dingy photographs of long-haired teenagers in battle stances. But it wasn’t for a few salacious lyrics or the occasional pentagram that they were condemned. Perhaps it was just this: in a world of linoleum hallways and corporate fingernails, of medicine breath and superstitions scienced away, in a world where reading Tolkien was rebellion and belief in magic delinquency, these conjurings of pounding drums and electric strings were altogether too stark, too loud, too strange and mystical and dangerous, for the disinfected, disenchanted world.
It was done quietly, no bonfires in the streets or librarian’s protests, only collections made by polite patrolmen and the silent humming of government incinerators. No one really seemed to mind, in fact; oh, these old things? Take ‘em, been in the attic for years anyways…
No one (it seemed), except Joe Hegel, garbage collector, twenty-three. His interfering sister-in-law had snitched on him, so he’d had to give his up to the incinerators, too. But they let him keep his posters. He sat down with a sigh and a beer on a ratty couch amid the worn, water-stained posters of Motorhead, Judas Priest, Deicide, Stryper …
“Ah, whatever,” he told himself aloud. Lit a non-carcinogenic cigarette. He wasn’t gonna get upset. Get upset, and they get you psychiatric help. Mess with your brains. “Whatever.” Nah, he wasn’t gonna get mad—
His leg flew out and knocked over the coffee table. Then he finished his drink and smashed the bottle against the wall.
“Maybe,” he said, voice slurring as he stared at the broken glass pieces, “maybe there’s a place somewhere…where blood is raining on Crystal Mountain … and the Painkiller still rides across the sky …”
Indeed, there was such a place.
The Universal Soldier, or No-Name, as Murphy and Häyhä had come to call him, was full of memories. Shell-shock, Murphy said, but how could someone be shell-shocked from a thousand wars?—one moment burning in a Russian tank, the next blasted by a Union musket, the next trampled in a cavalry charge. Wearing a new uniform every day: Nazi, Hussar, French, or uniform-less with a gold star on his clothes and a Molotov cocktail in his hand.
“Your trouble,” Häyhä finally told him one day, as he sat oiling his M/28-30, “is that you aren’t real.”
Häyhä was a quiet man, but blunt, with a short stature and a disfigured jaw. He was more hunter and farmer than soldier, but he treated his rifle with the care of a close friend. His quick fingers moved dexterously over each shining part, his eyes with a faint shine like the moon reflected on Northern waters.
“Nobody’s real here, Simuna,” No-Name said gloomily. He was wiping the blood off his sabre, which yesterday had been a ship’s cannon.
“That isn’t what I mean,” said the sniper. His eyes got a distant look, and his hands went still. “Somewhere, sometime, out there in the Outerworlds, there lived a real Simo Häyhä, who walked out of his farmhouse with a hunting rifle to shoot flesh-and-blood Russian soldiers, and I look to him to tell me who I am.” He smiled a little. “Sometimes he even talks to me.” He went back to cleaning his rifle. “But you haven’t got anybody but yourself.”
No-Name looked intently at his friend. “What does he say?”
“The real Häyhä.”
“Oh.” He smiled again. “He tells me about Finland. Silent, snow-covered forests in winter, with the fire blazing on an oak log, and everything green in summer, with the cuckoo singing in the trees …” Tears pricked in his eyes. “Oh. Oh.” He said, but not to No-Name: “How can I miss so much a place I’ve never been?”
And, his rifle oiled and shining, he stood, slung it over his shoulder, and walked away through the snow.
No-Name slid his sabre into his sheath. He was a Cossack today, and The Trooper, a British infantryman, might try to pick a fight. He went wandering in the world of the song-dreams, as he always did, with the ache in his heart unsalved and the peculiar feeling that he had forgotten something very important.
High above him spiraled the Stairway to Heaven, and in the distance rose the Stargazer’s tower. On the horizon was the Silver Mountain, crowned with sun-shot clouds and blue, blue sky. Beyond that was a darker country, a line of taller, craggier mountains, shrouded in black mist.
Distantly he heard the strains of an accordion from Jarisleif’s Court and thought he might as well get a drink. A little mead was good for these cold days.
Then he saw a streak of flame across the sky, and the scream of sawblade wheels. The Painkiller. He landed his motorcycle, The Metal Monster, a little ways from No-Name.
“Soldier!” he called out, voice resounding and robotic. “You need a ride?”
“That’s alright. Just heading to the tavern.”
Jarisleif’s Court was full, as usual: Vikings swigged from carved horns, burly Men-of-War parked their motorcycles outside and told of their grand exploits, a few Strigoi huddled in a dark corner with their goblets of Christians’ blood, and the Ancient Mariner told his story to anyone who would listen.
“Heard the Nightcrawler is about again,” said one of the Vikings. “Gonna take some men to hunt it down.”
“I’ll hunt ‘im myself!” said a Man-of-War. “Give ‘im a taste of barbarian steel. No monster takes me on and lives!” He thumped his chest.
“You ain’t half so big as you think you is, kid,” drawled the Widowmaker from under his broad-brimmed hat.
The Man-of-War whipped his head around and drew his sword. No-Name retreated out a side door as the bullets and blades started to fly. “Can’t even drink in peace,” he muttered.
“You said it,” came a growly voice.
No-Name turned. It was the Wolf Man, picketing again. EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WEREWOLVES was painted in bold rainbow letters on the sign held above his furry head.
No-Name narrowed his eyes. “You better get outta here before the Warriors of the Son come by and blow you away.”
“I can handle them,” said the Wolf Man with a glint in his eye. He licked his lips.
“What’s the matter? Bored?” The Wolf Man grinned.
“Lost,” said the soldier. “Like always.”
The Wolf Man nodded towards the Stairway, sparkling green and gold. “Why don’t you try climbing it? You might find yourself.”
No-Name didn’t like taking the Wolf Man’s advice, but there weren’t any better options in sight. He went to the base, paid The Piper the required fee, and began his ascent on the gilded steps.
As he went, he felt very light, as if somebody had turned him over and emptied out his insides. Clouds drifted about him, whispering strange words, and in his hollow self he heard a sound like a flute playing, and the chattering of nymphs. Sometimes he saw green, papery flowers scattered across the steps, or heard an inhuman laugh coming from somewhere above him. He began to sway to the music. The nymphs chattered on, their voices tinny and strange, the May Queen was among them, but not dancing, just chattering, chattering, chattering, on and on, but what did it mean? What did it mean? Lighter, thinner, like water poured out, like butter across too much bread—
He had reached the top. And there was nothing. Nothing at all.
He fell into the void, a scream ripped from his mouth without his consent. Then it was black and pricked with stars, and he saw a spaceship wandering alone, alone, through the blackness—
He crashed hard, face-first, on stony ground, bounced, slid halfway down a boulder field, then finally landed in a prickler bush. He stood up, bruised, but very much alive. That was what it was to be The Universal Soldier, never out of commission. The times he should have died, but didn’t, were somewhere in the millions.
Taking stock of his surroundings, he realized he had fallen onto the slopes of the Silver Mountain—all around him was sparkling like the moon, and shrouded in gleaming clouds, with a rainbow curving down like a bridge to the lowlands. The Stairway must have gone much farther than it seemed.
The mountaintop was even colder than the winter day in the lowlands. He wished dearly for his berserker furs, or even his thin Red Army jacket. Seeing a light above him, on the mountain’s peak, he began to climb.
So, struggling over sharp silver stones and scrambling up cliffs, he finally made it to the peak. To his surprise, the mountain was flat-topped, with a crop of short, close-set grass covering the small plateau. In the middle of this strange meadow burned a campfire. A man with a long, silver beard sat beside it, pipe in hand.
“Ah,” he said, when he saw No-Name. “A guest. Come sit by the fire, wanderer, and tell me your tale.”
No-Name was more than happy to comply. He seated himself across from the man, and thrust his frozen hands towards the warm blaze, and when his ears had just begun to thaw, he said:
“My tale isn’t much. I don’t know who I am. I bought a drink. I climbed the Stairway to Heaven, but it didn’t take me anywhere. Except here, I guess,” he added with a grim laugh. “Who are you?”
“I’m the Man on the Silver Mountain, of course,” said the old man, with a nod of his sage head. He lit his pipe, blew out a smoke ring. “I suppose you want to know who you are.”
“It’s like this,” said the Man. “Everyone has a song. And when you know your song, you know yourself.”
“A song …”
“Yes. Listen!” The Man tilted his head to the side, hearing, it seemed, some invisible music. He bobbed his head, tapped his foot, started humming. His eyes shut. But No-Name heard nothing at all.
And then the Man began to sing, in his croaking, off-key voice, as if singing along: “Come down with fire, lift my spirit higher! Someone’s screaming my name …Come and make me holy again.”
The Man opened his eyes, a beatific smile on his face. “That’s my song.”
The Mountain was very quiet for a moment. No-Name felt, as he had so often, outside of something of which he could never be part. “But,” he said, as the sparks flew up from the fire, up into the paint-blue sky. “But what does it mean?”
“Mean?” The Man laughed. “Not much.”
No-Name’s stomach flipped. “What?”
“Well, maybe it’s meant something to someone,” the old man said, stroking his beard. “But I don’t think there was some grand idea …it’s like The Stairway, wanderer. Like the Stairway.”
“But it didn’t lead anywhere!” No-Name cried. “There was nothing at the top …”
“Exactly. It, ah, means what you want it to mean.”
“No!” The soldier thought of that green blankness, and saw, in his mind’s eye like a vision, a void of white. He began to shake. He felt as if the bottom had dropped out of the world. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t. There had to be something he had forgotten, a thing to grasp with his fingers, his mind …
He found he was shouting. “It’s easy for you to say! You’ve never burned to death in a tank. You don’t need anything but pretty things—” He tore up a handful of grass, threw it into the fire. Smoke billowed into the blue, blue sky. “All these pretty things. Gilded stairways and shiny motorcycles—hah! What about the Star Pilot? And the Painkiller? They have something to fight for. It can’t mean just anything!”
“But it does, dear wanderer,” said the Man, through the haze of smoke. “That’s just it. It isn’t real.”
“No, no, no!” He didn’t know, anymore, whether his voice was inside his mind or outside of him, whether his voice was a voice at all. He began to run down the mountain, out, out, out, down, down, down, away from all these words, words, words, that chatter, chatter, chatter, with nothing, nothing, nothing at the top—
Down, down, down. Now he was under the clouds, and they were gray and pouring rain. Thunder rolled above him. He ran until his uniform was sagged and dripping, until his skin was rain-bleached and his sabre rusted through, until he felt as old as the world itself. He threw himself down in a gray forest and prayed for death.
He lay there for hours, drifting in and out of sleep. In his dreams he saw planes roaring overhead, with crosses on their wings, and, for some reason, the face of a boar. Presently, he became aware of a sound. It was somebody muttering to themself, but the voice was very low and burry. It sounded like—
He looked up. “The Wolf Man?”
The werewolf, for it was a werewolf, shook his head. This was a different werewolf, of a different song. A crudely-carved cross on a rope of wooden beads was in his hands as he prayed his Latin prayers and looked to the gray, raining sky.
“What are you doing?” said the soldier.
“The rosary,” said the werewolf. “I am Lupus Dei, the Wolf of God.”
“You go for any of that Wolf Man’s drivel?” No-Name spat. “Werewolf Rights and all that?”
“Rights are gifts from God,” said Lupus, tilting his canine head. “Not a thing to be grabbed for. Let them come, let them go.”
“Your song tell you that?” said No-Name, in a broken voice.
“Oh, no,” said the strange werewolf. “My Maker wouldn’t have thought of it. They don’t believe in God, you know.”
“But you do?”
“But how—” Something stirred in his heart, as he looked into the werewolf’s keen, white eyes. There was something there, that had somehow brought him past the lands his Maker had marked for him, some way he, the magic, had grown past its magician. Thunder roared again. “You mean,” said No-Name. “The God of the Outerworlds.”
No-Name looked down to the rain-pounded mud. “What would he care for us?” he said, voice heavy with anger. “We aren’t real!”
But as he ran away he still heard Lupus’ burry voice, praying those ancient words again and again as the cross slipped through his clawed fingers…
TO BE CONTINUED….
YouTube channel link: www.youtube.com/channel/UCVmKp65pjjS_pQx0-E77kPg/
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